Open-air concerts are smash success

In The Villages, they’ve found a way to be entertained safely, given the circumstances. And that combination has made this week’s Open Air Concert Series a hit among Villagers, according to The Villages Entertainment. There’s still two more chances this weekend to enjoy musical entertainment at The Villages Polo Club, with the audience parked in socially-distanced golf carts. The series at The Villages Polo Club continues at 7 tonight with Celebrating Tom Jones Starring David Burnham before concluding Sunday night with a holiday performance by the Christmas Tenors. The series kicked off Monday with performances of Hotel California, Forever Motown and Absolute Queen. “This has been a monumental run of concerts,” said Brian Russo, director of entertainment. “The shows have been fantastic so far. It’s been amazing seeing all of these golf carts spread out across the field and seeing people finally getting to enjoy some live entertainment again.”

Fernando Varela helped produce the event in his role of executive director of Victory Productions and will be part of the final show Sunday as a member of The Christmas Tenors. He said it’s been an emotionally fulfilling week.

“It has been fantastic,” he said. “From the first note on the first night it has been a joy to see people able to get out and shake off all of the bad news from the year and just have fun enjoying some wonderful shows in a safe setting.”

Audiences can enjoy the performance from the safety of their cart — à la golf cart drive-in style. No more than four people per vehicle are admitted.

Audience members may enjoy the performances in or next to their vehicles and can bring chairs if they wish to do so. They are asked to maintain social distancing while outside of their vehicles. Hand sanitation stations are provided. Masks are requested.

“We have every golf car in its own 12-foot-by-16-foot space and all of our staff are wearing masks,” Russo said. “There’s plenty of room for people to sit in front of their carts, get up and dance, and enjoy the shows.”

Russo said the setup at the polo club has been impressive.

“We have a huge stage with two giant screens,”  he said. “We have food trucks, a full bar and absolutely incredible production value every night. We’ve had some really great shows and are looking forward to the rest of the series.”

Varela said the setting has made for memorable moments.

“Everyone involved, from the artists to the crew, have commented about how cool it is to look out from the stage at a sea of golf carts,” he said. “It’s truly one of those ‘only in The Villages’ moments.”

Varela also has appreciated the reactions from the artists and crew members who have endured a difficult year.

“Our industry has been hit so hard,” Varela said. “This week has really brought a purpose to so many people — the artists who perform, to our sound and lighting engineers and the entire staff and crew. This is what we do. It’s been great to put on these shows and see people enjoying themselves again.”

Varela hopes the performing industry will return to normal by next fall, but he said the idea of the Open Air Concert Series is one he plans to revisit.

“Brian and I have already said that we want to see this series become an annual event outside of COVID,” he said. “We have learned a lot this week and have gotten a lot of feedback, most of it very positive. So we look forward to continuing this series in the future.”

Tonight’s show will feature Burnham performing favorites from singer Tom Jones, such as “It’s Not Unusual,” “What’s New Pussycat?” and “Delilah,” along with anecdotes about the entertainer’s life and career.

On Sunday, The Christmas Tenors — Varela, Devin Eatmon and Craig Irvin — will perform their new Christmas album live for the first time, backed by The Villages Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Pasquale Valerio. The concert will feature several surprise guests, both in person and via video.

“Back in May, I was inspired to do this Christmas album because I wanted it to be a way to put 2020 behind us and to look forward to a hopeful new year,” Varela said. “It was a great joy to create it and I’m looking forward to having a magical show on Sunday to close out this series and usher in the week of Christmas.” 

Tickets for the last two shows are available online at thevillagesentertainment.com or at any Villages Box Office location.

Specialty Editor Keith Pearlman can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5347, or keith.pearlman@thevillagesmedia.com.

Daily Sun staff writer Liz Coughlin contributed to this report.